Parliamentary Committees and Public Enquiries
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MPs report on the Adult Apprenticeship Programme

The Commons Public Accounts Committee publishes its 84th Report of Session 2010-12, Adult Apprenticeships as HC 1875.

The Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts, today said:

"The Apprenticeship Programme has been a success.

The Department has done very well in raising the number of adult apprenticeships, which more than quadrupled in the four years to 2010/11. The  proportion of adult apprentices who successfully completed their apprenticeship  also rose, to more than three-quarters in 2010/11 compared with just a third six years before.

But the Department could do more to maximise the Programme’s impacts.

My Committee is concerned about the number of short training programmes classified as apprenticeships. The National Apprenticeships Service expects them to last between one and four years, but around a fifth of apprenticeships lasted for only six months or even less.

The danger is that apprenticeships lasting such a short time are of no real benefit to either the individuals who take part or employers and could devalue the programme. I am pleased therefore that the Skills Minister announced recently that adult apprenticeships will last a minimum of 6 months and normally at least 12 months.

We also have concerns about the amount and quality of training some apprentices receive. Many do not receive the off-the-job training they are entitled to and this is something the Department must address.

Many employers still see apprenticeships as a cost rather than an investment. The Department needs to do more to promote the benefits of apprenticeships both to employers and individuals, so that England’s Apprenticeship Programme can catch up with the programmes of other countries.

If the Service is to get better at targeting of resources, it needs to understand better which apprenticeships in which sectors deliver the best value for money. It doesn’t currently know what levels of profit the providers are making and whether it is paying them too much for some types of apprenticeship."

Margaret Hodge was speaking as the Committee published its 84th Report of the 2010-12 Session. This was on the basis of evidence from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Skills Funding Agency and the National Apprenticeship Service.

The successful Apprenticeship Programme involves work-related training for full-time employees in England.  The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (the Department), which has responsibility for adult apprenticeships (ages 19 and over), works with its partners, the Skills Funding Agency (the Agency) and the National Apprenticeship Service (the Service), to deliver the Programme. Adult apprentices represented 325,500, or 71%, of the 457,200 apprentices who started their apprenticeship in the 2010/11 academic year. During the 2010-11 financial year the Department spent £451 million on adult apprenticeships.

The Programme has been a success: the Department and its partners have more than quadrupled the number of adult apprenticeships in the four years to 2010/11 and the proportion of adult apprentices successfully completing their apprenticeship has also risen, from around a third in 2004/05 to over three-quarters in 2010/11.

The National Audit Office found that completed apprenticeships were associated with economic benefits of around £18 per £1 of public funding; although these estimates did not take into account the extent to which employers would have paid for training in the absence of public funding because the Department had yet to make such an assessment. 

While we commend the leadership provided by the Service and recognise the successes of the Programme, further work needs to be done to maximise its impacts. The Department should improve its understanding of which apprenticeships offer the biggest returns. The Service should give both employers and individuals better information about the benefits arising from different types of apprenticeship, as well as about the quality of the many training providers. The Service should do more to increase the number of employers offering apprenticeships, and to increase the proportion of advanced skill level apprenticeships achieved, moving England closer to the levels delivered in other European countries.  

Importantly, around one in five apprenticeships lasted for six months or less. The service accepts our concern that apprenticeships lasting for such a short period are of no proper benefit to either individuals or employers. The service says it is tackling the problem but it needs to do more to guarantee the length and quality of training –especially the off-the-job training apprentices receive.

The Service and the Agency also need to develop a proper understanding of the cost of delivering apprenticeship training. At present, they do not know whether they are paying too much for some apprenticeships.

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